Key Steele dossier source acquitted of lying to FBI charges
A jury acquitted Igor Danchenko, an analyst hired to compile parts of the Steele dossier that alleged ties between Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Russia, of charges of lying to the FBI on Tuesday.
Why it matters: It is a major blow to special counsel John Durham's multi-year investigation into the origins of the Russia probe and possible misconduct by U.S. law enforcement.
- Danchenko was the third person charged, and subsequently indicted, in the investigation. This trial is expected to be the last stemming from Durham’s investigation before it is concluded.
- The jury began deliberating on whether to convict or acquit Danchenko on Monday.
Context: Danchenko was charged with five counts of lying to the FBI in November 2021, though a judge later dropped one of the counts, saying the specific charge wasn’t strong enough to go before the jury, according to the Washington Post.
- The indictment alleged Danchenko knowingly lied about conversations he had with “sub-sources” during FBI interviews conducted in an effort to corroborate allegations made in the Steele dossier, which was indirectly funded by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
- The FBI opened the investigation after the Trump campaign’s former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos told an Australian diplomat that he knew Russia had damaging material on Clinton, Trump's rival in the 2016 election.
- Erroneous information that originated from Danchenko in the dossier was later used by the FBI to obtain a surveillance warrant against former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
- Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department’s inspector general, criticized the FBI’s handling of the dossier in a 2019 report, saying it fell short of ensuring that the information was accurate.
- Horowitz also said the dossier did not play any role in the FBI’s opening of the investigation, which he said was ultimately not tainted by political bias.
The big picture: In 2019, then-Attorney General Bill Barr appointed Durham to probe the origins of the Russia investigation, which began in July 2016.
- The grand jury Durham has recently used to hear evidence expired this fall and he did not seek to convene another one, suggesting he and his team may be winding down the investigation and nearing a final report on their findings, according to the New York Times.
- Former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith was sentenced to 12 months of probation and 400 hours of community service in August 2020 after pleading guilty to altering email evidence used to obtain the surveillance warrant against Page.
- In May 2022, Michael Sussmann, a lawyer whose firm represented the Clinton campaign in 2016, was acquitted of a felony charge of lying to the FBI in the first trial stemming from Durham’s investigation.
- Durham's investigation has cost $4.4 million in taxpayer funds from October 2020 to March 2022, according to expenditure reports released by his office.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with new details throughout.